RE: [asa] Dawkins new book (morals)

From: Dehler, Bernie <>
Date: Tue Oct 27 2009 - 10:19:13 EDT

"But perhaps you can help me. Let's start with a pretty (well, traditionally) easy example: A couple has a 11 month old child. Healthy and so on........"

It is good to bring up an example to focus discussion, but it is a poor example (unless you want a strawman). It is a poor example because it is not real life. Tom brought up real examples in his discussion, which illustrated real points. So I'd suggest re-asking with a valid example that we see in the real world.

And I also don't suggest pulling up a bad example from the past, because that could also be done for Christianity too. Try to keep it modern, remembering that we all (most of us) have learned from the past.


From: [] On Behalf Of Schwarzwald
Sent: Monday, October 26, 2009 6:17 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] Dawkins new book

Heya Tom,
At the risk of seeing this conversation degenerate into a semantic dispute, I'll just say that I don't think of objective norms or claims as being the expression of a transient "public opinion." Most objective norms are deeply embedded in our cultural practices, and have an enduring pedigree. Perhaps better examples than the one I offered earlier would be rules of etiquette, or maybe rules of the road. It's an objective fact (or so it seems to me) that we have a long tradition in the U.S. of driving on the right side of the road. Is that not objectively true? It's not a universal fact, nor does it originate in some unimpeachable source. But wouldn't it be odd to deny that, in the U.S., it's objectively true that folks drive on the right side of the road?
But it seems obvious to me that moral values, purposes and intrinsic meanings are objective in precisely the same sense that the rules of Monopoly are objective. The rules of Monopoly are not universal in scope, the way that moral values, purposes and intrinsic meaning can be; nor are the rules of Monopoly promulgated by an incorrigible source. But in terms of objectivity, they both appear to occupy a level playing field. You obviously do not agree with this, and I have a hard time understanding your position. Can you say more about what makes the objectivity of moral values, purposes and intrinsic meanings substantively different from the objectivity of the rules of Monopoly?
 Did you just ask me to explain to you the difference between moral truths grounded in God (whether by His existence being identical with His goodness, or from a divine command) or the divine-like (Again, something similar to the Tao, or perhaps some forms of Buddhism) ... and rules that come from the good people at Hasbro corporation?

Come on - you can't really think my problem with atheist-naturalist morality amounts to "Well, I never saw them write down a list of rules somewhere in actual ink." or "They say killing infants is wrong, but I'm not so sure the existence of infants can be ascertained", can you? I think I've been more explicit than that here, so I'm having trouble taking these questions at all seriously.

As a Christian, I'm firmly committed to an objective morality. But I'm not necessarily committed to a universal and transcendent morality. And your social contract example - "written down on a piece of paper. . .they agree to follow it. . .people can come up with rules" - is one I find equally implausible. A number of thinkers who are a lot smarter than me have held to an objective morality without recourse to a universal and transcendent morality, and without collapsing into a socially constructed morality. It's surely not the case that what makes morality objective requires something universal and transcendent.

I may well hold a different opinion as to the smartness of those thinkers, sadly. And very often this sort of thing devolves into word games - in the way that an avowed nihilist can make use of words like 'good' and 'evil' when talking about morality, purpose, etc. But upon inspection it turns out to be little more than heavily reworked vocabulary, where "evil" and "good" is just shorthand for "What the nihilist in question likes or dislikes at any given moment".

Or, put another way - once God is denied, once the transcendent is denied, and once naturalist-materialism is affirmed (I have to specify it like that due to how slippery naturalism has become as of late - then again, physicalism is almost as slippery), what's going to be left over for talk of morality, purpose, etc isn't all that interesting. Oh, I'm sure someone can come up with certain rules and so on, but what can I say. I'm just not that interested in Monopoly.
It's not clear to me if you hold that an objective morality - or anything else truly objective - does in fact require something universal and transcendent. Again, could you say more about that? I appreciate your comments, and I'd like to hear more of them.
As I've said repeatedly here, I do not deny that (say) a materialist-naturalist can create and subscribe to an "ethos". Nor do I deny that an ethos can deal with "the objective" in that uninteresting, qualified sense of "well, laws against speeding require the existence of cars - and that's an objective fact!" or "the law against speeding is an objective fact - you can read about it here!", etc. As ever, I'm making reference to what these terms ultimately mean (if anything) - questions of intrinsic versus extrinsic meaning, intrinsic versus extrinsic purpose, etc.

But perhaps you can help me. Let's start with a pretty (well, traditionally) easy example: A couple has a 11 month old child. Healthy and so on. But, they decide said child is actually fairly annoying - and by their accountant's estimations, if they keep this child, they're going to have to put off retirement for a year or two down the road. So, they arrange to have their child killed and her organs harvested and donated (for tax break purposes). For the sake of discussion, let's say this is legal where they live (A couple can elect to have their child killed if they are under 3 years of age.)

Could you tell me if this is immoral? And if so, why is it immoral from your perspective? And finally, are there any reasons for it being immoral that would be unavailable on a materialist-naturalist worldview?

Thank you.

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Received on Tue Oct 27 10:19:40 2009

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